MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat has always been artistically suspect. It's a very superficial interpretation of the play, more akin to a fancy-dress dinner-theater version, than a serious adaptation. Apart from the major alterations made in the score and plot, and the sheer radiance of its Technicolor photography, which makes it look too good, the 1951 movie's production caused the 1936 Universal version (made within hailing distance of the original stage production and utilizing members of that cast) to be withdrawn from circulation for many years. On the other hand, this is the version of Show Boat that, for better or worse, most filmgoers and most people have come to know for a half century. It has had a mixed history on video. The original VHS and laser editions from the early and mid-'80s, based on existing elements for television presentation, suffered from muddy colors and muffled sound. A laser upgrade in the late '80s improved both modestly, and another in the early '90s restored most of the luster to the picture and the music. The DVD release takes the next step -- the movie glows from its first frame to its last; what's more, the detail that shows through now makes even the last laserdisc edition look pale, muted, and anemic by comparison. The sound is also very good, although here the movie has always been at a disadvantage -- Show Boat was made a little too early to avail itself of the best recording technology, and the audio has always lacked the range and richness of later musical productions from MGM and other studios; it's decent, and carefully balanced, but still a bit bass-heavy and lacking a layer of clarity that is evident in other musical scores of the period -- the orchestral transitions lack some of the majesty that one expects in their volume and texture, and most of the songs miss the highs and rich undertones that belong in this kind of a rich score. This may be as good as it gets, however, and it is cleaner than the laser track. Despite its artistic shortcomings, one sort of wishes that Warner Home Video had given this disc special treatment. There should have been an audio track discussion of the film and the underlying work. This would have been a chance to show those who might never purchase the 1936 version (assuming it ever comes out on DVD) what was missing here and also what was good about it -- and there is some good about it, especially several of the performances: Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Agnes Moorehead, William Warfield, and Kathryn Grayson. As it is, it's a very good disc, one of the prettiest to look at in the MGM musical library, well mastered and priced attractively. The only bonus material is the original trailer, which is as faded and fuzzy as the movie used to look on video, but the 28 chapters divide the movie up into all of its essential musical and dramatic points. The movie starts up automatically, so the menu must be accessed manually.